Reviews of the 2020 Pura Belpré Author Award winners


Sal & Gabi Break the Universe [Rick Riordan Presents]
by Carlos Hernandez
Intermediate, Middle School
Disney-Hyperion    389 pp.
3/19    978-1-368-02282-8    $16.00





Honor Books

The Other Half of Happy
by Rebecca Balcárcel
Middle School    Chronicle    332 pp.
8/19    978-1-4521-6998-9    $16.99






Lety Out Loud
by Angela Cervantes
Intermediate    Scholastic    201 pp.
2/19    978-1-338-15934-9    $16.99






Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré
by Anika Aldamuy Denise; illus. by Paola Escobar
Primary     Harper/HarperCollins     40 pp.
1/19     978-0-06-274868-3     $17.99

In her native Puerto Rico, a young Pura Belpré retells folk stories to children under a tamarind tree; when she visits Nueva York in 1921 and decides to stay, obtaining work at the public library as a bilingual assistant, she carries her homeland’s tales with her. When she can’t find on bookshelves the stories she knows and loves, she plants them like seeds by telling them at storytimes, making her own puppets to act them out, and eventually writing them down for publication. Denise’s descriptive language moves between English and Spanish seamlessly, without italics used or translations needed, and portrays a lively Pura: “Her eyes dance! / Her voice sings!” The text contains questions to advance the story line: “But the library needs libros for its shelves. How can more children read Pérez y Martina and other cuentos de Puerto Rico?” The metaphor of planting and growing seeds is carried throughout in both text and illustrations, so that as the biographical details unfold, readers see the seeds of Belpré’s stories take root, grow, and bloom. Expressive digital illustrations in earthy colors portray warm and radiant characters. An author’s note provides more information about Pura Belpré and her legacy, and a double-page spread of back matter includes additional sources. ALICIA K. LONG

From the January/February 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read more by and about Anika Aldamuy Denise and Paola Escobar.


Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War
by Duncan Tonatiuh; illus. by the author
Primary, Intermediate    Abrams    40 pp.
9/19    978-1-4197-3682-7    $18.99

Growing up Mexican American in Texas at the turn of the twentieth century meant racism and discrimination to José de la Luz Sáenz: the first word in the book is “Greaser!” hurled at young Luz by another boy (whom Luz then tackles to the ground). Luz grows up, marries, has children, becomes a teacher, and goes off to fight in World War I, where his facility with languages — he was already fluent in Spanish, and has now also learned French — allows him to act as a translator. Despite his serving his country faithfully, injustice and inequality persist when he returns home, but Luz never stops fighting for what’s right. He remains politically active in various organizations and helps create the influential League of United Latin American Citizens. In this informative and inspiring story, Tonatiuh’s signature style is on full display: digitally manipulated colors and textures complement thin lines and flat shapes, inspired by the artistic style of Mexico’s indigenous Mixtec people. Moreover, Tonatiuh’s obvious pride in Latinx heritage, coupled with that heritage’s sociopolitical undertones, places his body of work in the broader tradition of Latinx political art — and this fine picture-book biography is the latest iteration. An author’s note, sources, timelines, a bibliography, an index, and a glossary are appended. JONATHAN HUNT

From the January/February 2020 Horn Book Magazine. Read more by and about Duncan Tonatiuh.


For more, click on the tag ALA Midwinter 2020.


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